As the train speeds through a French field, a motorcycle pulls alongside it in its travel. The passenger stands up on the motorcycle. Grasping at the rails, he makes a leap across to the door of the train, landing with a hard thud, adjusting his coat and casually stepping inside. You are Robert Cath, wanted all across Europe. You have just boarded the Last Express.
The Last Express was a 1997 Adventure Game by Smoking Car Productions, set on the Orient Express at the eve of World War I. Lovingly written and put together, it was the unfortunate victim of a Diabolus ex Machina involving its distributor. Brøderbund Software's entire marketing department quit just weeks before the game was to be released, which resulted in absolutely no advertising for it. While critically acclaimed, it was one of the biggest flops in gaming history. Hopefully, Interplay Entertainment obtained the rights to the game and started re-doing it.
One of the creators (Jordan Mechner) edited all the significant events together into a movie, which can be watched at his site. The game itself has been rereleased as a Digital Download Collector's Edition. It is also available on GOG.com, Steam, iOS, and Android.
This game provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Anna, in the second half of the game. She pulls her gun on just about every named character left on the train car.
- Artistic License: In reality, the Orient Express would have been pulled by different locomotives for each country given the railway system and the production team acknowledges this. Ironically, there appear to be two locomotives represented to be the same one; in the computer generated and static art backgrounds, the engine is a 4-4-0 Belgian Dunalastair, which pulled trains like to Oostende-Wein Express, while the rotoscoped scenes which use a model train depict the locomotive as something of a custom made model with a Stephenson valve gear, a large boiler, a short funnel and a smokebox door.
- The station at Budapest featured in the game is depicted with railway lines going through instead of terminating like the Keleti, Nyugati and Déli stations in real life.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Persian eunuch shouts at you... in Arabic.
- Averted for everyone else. All characters other than the aforementioned eunuch speak their native languages perfectly.
- All There in the Manual: The story works just fine if you don't check, but the official web site (mirror) and the official strategy guide have a bit of background on the characters. Playing the game without these just dips you in headfirst.
- Badass Bookworm: Robert Cath; medical doctor, speaks at least four languages, currently pursuing an interest in classical Byzantine literature... and throws a hell of a punch.
- Batman Gambit: Herr Schmidt's arms deal was arranged only so it could be thwarted by Anna and give the Austrians and Germans an excuse to go to war with Serbia. Canonically, the deal falls through anyway, and Cath revealing the plan to Schmidt causes him a rather poignant moment of shock.
- Big "NO!": When you blow the whistle at the end, Kronos loses it.
- Bilingual Backfire: A key plot element. The train has English, French, German, Russian, Serbo-Croation and Arabic passengers. Cath is American, but speaks English, French, German and Russian, enabling him to eavesdrop as he pleases. The only one on the train who doesn't assume he is monolingual is the little kid running around who speaks in French.
- Bilingual Bonus: Although French, German and Russian dialogue has subtitles, there are none for Serbo-Croatian or Arabic, neither of which Cath knows. Also, although Cath can speak Russian, he apparently cannot read Cyrillic script and needs one of the Russian-speakers to translate the fairytale for him.
- Bilingual Dialogue: Cath can speak four languages, and the languages he understands are subtitled. Those he doesn't understand are still spoken correctly, but have no subtitles.
- Blood-Splattered Innocents: Cath and Tatiana. In the first case Cath is innocent in the legal sense; though he must pick up and move Tyler's body, staining his jacket with blood, he did not kill Tyler. In the second case Tatiana is innocent in every sense, wearing a bloody hand-print from a dying man for almost two days, which does not bode well for her sanity.
- Bluffing the Murderer: George Abbott knows Cath is the wanted American and Alexei is an anarchist, but he's not sure which person is the bigger threat. If you talk with him, he casually mentions and notices many suspicious details about Cath, and he talks to Alexei later in a manner that offends his anarchist sensibilities, confirming both his suspicions when they quickly excuse themselves from the conversation.
- Bound and Gagged: Robert and Anna after the Serbs take over the train.
- Break the Cutie: Tatiana. Her grandfather is a Czarist and her lover is an anarchist bomber and say it only gets worse from there.
- But Now I Must Go: Just after Anna and Cath save each other and there is a bit of romance, Anna unfortunately has to leave the train. The game is scripted so that it will always arrive just after the fight sequence.
- Cassandra Truth: Nobody believes François when he says he saw a body being thrown out the window. Even though that's exactly what you did. Even after the police find a body on the tracks and board the train to investigate, they still won't believe him.
- Controllable Helplessness:
- Cath gets knocked out and tied up by Slav militants. After waking up, you can do nothing but fidget around until the book of matches falls out of his pocket, enabling him to burn through his bonds.
- The first two fight scenes prevent Cath from fighting back. The only way to win the first fight is to keep dodging until Cath grabs his assailant's arm and twists their weapon away. The second fight is just dodging until someone intervenes.
- Cultured Badass: Cath is a Cunning Linguist and a medical doctor, while Anna is a masterful violinist. Also, Kronos plays the piano with Anna in a duet.
- Dead Man's Chest: One of the ways to stop anyone from finding the body is to stash it in your bed.
- Dead Person Impersonation: Robert Cath, the protagonist, impersonates his friend, Tyler Whitney (in the page picture).
- Deadpan Snarker: Robert Cath has his moments.Milos: Have you heard of "Unity or Death"?Cath: Sure, that's Harvard's motto. Or is it the post office...?
- Developers' Foresight:
- At one point, Cath must steal the Firebird egg for Kronos, while also stealing a briefcase full of money from Kronos to show to August Schmidt. While you can lose the spoilered item, have it stolen back, give it to Kronos, or never find it at all, the game takes into account whether or not you also stole the briefcase if Kronos gets the item, and reacts accordingly. What makes this more impressive is that Kronos getting his hands on the item results in a Nonstandard Game Over, meaning they thought of all of this for a path that leads to a bad ending.
- Meeting August Schmidt for the first time is a scripted event that has to take place. You have to go out of your way to avoid him, but eventually, you'll have no choice but to talk to him, making part of the deal with him about his merchandise.
- Downer Ending: WWI begins, Cath doesn't get the girl, Tatiana blows herself up, and the explanation of Tyler's death leaves something to be desired. Not to mention, a good portion of the cast ends up dead.
- Driven to Suicide: Tatiana blows herself up with August's guns to prevent anyone else from getting their hands on them.
- Duel Boss: All of the games fight scenes are one-on-one, Cath vs. a member of the four Serbian nationalists. Notably, Cath is unarmed in all but the last of these fights, and the weapon he uses there is only obtained from the previous boss after Cath throws the guy off the top of the train.
- The Edwardian Era: Deconstructed. The era's elegance, glamor, wit and technological optimism are all aboard the Orient Express just as advertised, but it just as carefully details the centuries-old schisms and hatreds that resulted in World War I.
- Egg MacGuffin: Tyler Whitney got mixed up in a deal where he planned to sell a golden, jeweled egg called the Firebird for money and then using that money to give weapons to terrorists. Unfortunately, that egg was stolen around the time he was murdered. Since you are impersonating Tyler, you need to find the egg and make the two deals go through in order to prevent Tyler's creditors from dishing out consequences. And as it turns out the egg, which can turn into a mechanical bird, is what killed Tyler, answering the big question of the game.
- Empty Room Psych: Some of the passenger compartments have (at times) nothing important or plot related in them, but you'll be so happy you managed to sneak past the conductors, you'll look everywhere before leaving.
- Everybody Smokes: As fitting for the time period. Even Cath, who's supposed to be a doctor, smokes regularly.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The whole story takes place in just under four days, starting in the evening of July 24th, 1914, and ending in the early morning of July 28th.
- Foregone Conclusion: It's too late to prevent World War I. It's all a matter of being in the right place when it begins.
- Gameplay and Story Integration: French, German and Russian dialogue all have English subtitles. There are no subtitles for Serbo-Croation and Arabic because Cath doesn't speak those languages.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Anna first appears wearing one, and Sophie and Rebecca sport one as well.
- Grey and Gray Morality: The creators were going for this, as touched on in the "making of" video. Cath, for instance, is not a bad guy, but he's not exactly ethical, either.
- Happy Fun Ball: The Firebird can turn into a mechanical attack drone.
- Hide Your Lesbians: If you read Rebecca's diary and listen to her and Sophie's conversations, it's clear that they're involved in a lesbian relationship and the purpose of their travel is to go to a secluded island together. But then Sophie makes it clear in one conversation that she intends to get married (to a man) one day, and advises Rebecca to do the same before her beauty fades. Rebecca does not like this idea.
- Lady of War: Anna and Vesna, both of whom pull a gun and a knife on Cath..
- The Last Title: The game takes place in 1914 on the last Orient Express to run before World War I broke out. It would not run again until 1932... which results in a Downer Ending, as Anna, thinking the war would only last a month, promised to come find Robert on "the first Orient Express that runs after the war."
- In reality, the Express did run again after the war in 1918.
- Late to the Tragedy: The game quickly becomes this both in-game and out as the player is given little introduction to the protagonist (if you didn't think to check the web site or the official strategy guide, the entirety of his backstory and motivations must be puzzled out through dialogue and in-game documents). Cath himself has practically no information about what he agreed to help Tyler accomplish, and spends the first half of the game bluffing that he does.
- Lipstick Lesbian: Sophie and Rebecca, an English girl and a French girl, who have to hide the fact that they're lovers. They don't factor much into the plot, but it's pretty clear once you're looking.
- Low Clearance: Near the end of the game, if he doesn't hit the deck when Vesna does, Cath smacks into the top of a train tunnel.
- MacGuffin: The gold, the guns, and later the Firebird.
- The Many Deaths of You: Several. Most of them where Cath actually dies involved being stabbed. But, Cath can also get arrested, blown up, shot, hit with an iron bracelet, and walk off with a briefcase full of gold coins but no closure.
- Multiple Endings: Mostly dying or being arrested, but the player can also escape the train with a lot of money but a lot of unanswered questions. Or, set off an international incident (but you get a medal for it).
- Mysterious Past: Just why does Robert want to go to Constantinople so badly, anyway? (The answer: he's a wanted man in more or less the entire Western world, and Tyler offered him a ticket out. Also, it's on the way to Jerusalem.)
- Cath says the whole freedom-fighting and arms-dealing things were more Tyler's areas, but he was allegedly hanging out with the Irish independence movement just before the game begins. It's also not clear where Cath picked up the knowledge of herbal medicine (with Datura stramonium) or what appears to be a hypnotic ability he uses a few times, including on the Firebird itself.
- Kronos is also particularly mysterious. His descent and what title he has to be addressed as "His Excellency" is unclear, along with how he knows what's really going on in general, including knowing Cath's name and that he's masquerading as Tyler from the outset, or why he wants anything to do with the Firebird.
- Noodle Incident: "Still angry about Cuba." Anna does bring it up when she is introduced to him by August, but Cath deflects it by saying that he was planning to start a revolution in Mexico.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: George Abbot, a bumbling, loquacious British businessman... and spy.
- Orient Express: A fictionalized account of its final run.
- Police are Useless: The Orient Express has to leave the station on time. Even when a body was found near the tracks. Even when every passenger on the train has been located except one.
- Somewhat justified in that the train conductors consider them just small-town cops with nothing better to do than harass them with something that can't possibly be their problem. That said, if the cops do find Cath, they realize he fits the description of a fugitive and arrest him right away.
- Press X to Not Die: All the "fights" in the game are basically this, especially the first fight with Vesna, where you can't do anything but dodge until help arrives. Also, the last boss fight, after you've already won, requires you to duck when your opponent does to avoid colliding with the top of a trail tunnel.
- The Quiet One: Kahina. The only thing she says directly to Cath (besides saying "Pardon me" when passed in the hallways)? "You talk a great deal for a man who knows so little."
- Real Time: Sped up by a factor of five.
- Refuge in Audacity: If you want the game to continue beyond Vienna, the correct way to obtain the briefcase is to drop into Kronos's cabin from above during the concert, steal the briefcase, then walk out holding the briefcase in plain view of everyone. The audience is probably too focused on Kronos and Miss Wolff to realize what's going on; Kronos and Kahina know exactly what's going on but are powerless to do anything about it at that time since their concert is part of The Masquerade and they must keep it going.
- Scare Chord: Used when Robert Cath discovers the body of his friend, Tyler Whitney.
- Shame If Something Happened: After defusing the bomb, Abbott says as much to Cath. While Abbott is willing to let a few things go, seeing as how Cath did just save the lives of the entire train, Abbott also none-too-subtly threatens Cath to work with the British Empire, lest the "official story" of what happened before the game paint Cath in a bad light.
- Skippable Boss: Thanks to what may or may not be a glitch. See Good Bad Bugs on the YMMV page.
- Shout-Out: When commandeering the locomotive, Abbot sings Ruler of the Queen's Navee from H.M.S. Pinafore.
- Stock Scream: The Wilhelm can be heard when Cath tosses Salko off the top of the train.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Vesna, one of the Black Hand. Nobody's fooled.
- Tap on the Head: Robert is knocked out by a crowbar hit to the head and wakes up later with no injuries.
- Those Two Girls: Rebecca and Sophie, who have nothing to do with the plot but love to talk about everything. If the game ends early, you get an excerpt from Rebecca's journal, explaining what happened to that mysteriously handsome man.
- Thriller on the Express: A group of international terrorists and anarchists take over the train.
- Traintop Battle: Two of them, in fact. One is unarmed vs. crowbar, and the other is sword vs. crowbar.
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: The fight scenes are basically quicktime events that require the player to block, dodge, and hit at just the right times.
- Vasquez Always Dies: The only females who die in the game (in the good ending) are also the least feminine. Except Tatiana.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Alexei is a radical, revolutionary anarchist who tries to blow up the whole train just to kill Count Obelensky, but he always believes what he is doing is for the greater good and truly loves Tatiana.
- To a lesser extent, the Serbs. Despite their violent tendencies and takeover of the train, they (or at least Milos) justify it as part of their plan to drive the Austrians out of Bosnia.
- Western Terrorists: The Black Hand, Serbian nationalists. Alexei Dolnikov, Russian nihilist/anarchist. Cath himself is a fugitive for at least his involvement with the IRB; though his only crime there was treating their injured or so George diplomatically concedes. It's not clear if that's what happened or if that would become the "official story" if Cath took his offer to ally himself with British interests; either way, the offer isn't taken.
- Whole Plot Reference: To Murder on the Orient Express, naturally. Apart from taking place on the Orient Express and climaxing in the Balkans, several characters are also homages to suspects from the book, such as Count Obelensky (to Princess Dragomiroff). Provided the police found Tyler's body on the tracks, Abbot even says he can't believe that there's been "a murder on the Orient Express".
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Discussed in a dialogue between Cath and Schmidt.Cath: Where do the Fatherland's interests lie in arming a band of Serbian terrorists?
Schmidt: "Terrorists?" You surprise me. I had thought you would at least keep up the pretense of sympathy with the group that is paying you.
Cath: I never said I wasn't sympathetic. I said they were terrorists.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me: After Cath pushes the train on through the Austrian/Serbian border:Anna: [Points gun at Cath] We're still within the Austrian Empire. In the name of the emperor, I order you to stop the train! ...Do you think I won't shoot you?
Cath: Go ahead!
Anna: (looks and sees them approaching the border) Now you've done it. Damn you.
It did not run again until May 1932.